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Automated Feeding Platform to Study Mosquito Disease Transmission

Conn Hastings |

A team at Rice University has developed an automated feeding platform for mosquitoes that allows researchers to test different types of repellent and investigate mosquito-borne disease transmission. Traditionally, such mosquito research would require human volunteers or animal subjects for the mosquitos to feed on, but this is obviously inconvenient and a little distasteful. This new system dispenses with the need for human volunteers and associated laborious data collection and analysis. The technology consists of 3D printed synthetic skin with real blood that flows through small vessels. Mosquitos can feed through the skin and are kept in place in a surrounding box, which also contains mounted cameras that record the whole process. Machine learning algorithms then interpret the resulting video footage, providing a variety of data including bite number and duration.

Dengue, yellow fever, and malaria: what do they all have in common? The pesky mosquito. However, while this flying culprit is well known, studying the process of disease transmission in detail and developing new ways to deter mosquitos from biting in the first place can be difficult. At present, many researchers are forced to use animal subjects or human volunteers who are willing to sit for long periods while mosquitoes feast on their blood. This is clearly not ideal, and requires long periods of observation and data analysis.   

To address these limitations, these researchers have created a synthetic and automated alternative. This consists of 3D printed hydrogel constructs that act as synthetic skin. These structures contain artificial blood vessels through which the researchers can circulate real human blood. A transparent box around the hydrogel patches keeps live mosquitos in place above, allowing them to land and feed. Cameras mounted in the box record the activity, and then the researchers use machine learning algorithms to analyze the footage.

“It provides a consistent and controlled method of observation,” said Omid Veiseh, a researcher involved in the study. “The hope is researchers will be able to use that to identify ways to prevent the spread of disease in the future.”

So far, the researchers have used the device to test various mosquito repellents, but the technology could also let researchers to investigate mosquito-mediated disease transmission in more detail. “We are using the system to examine virus transmission during blood feeding,” said Dawn Wesson, another researcher involved in the study. “We are interested both in how viruses get taken up by uninfected mosquitoes and how viruses get deposited, along with saliva, by infected mosquitoes. If we had a better understanding of the fine mechanics and proteins and other molecules that are involved, we might be able to develop some means of interfering in those processes.”

See a video about the device below:

Study in journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology: Development of an automated biomaterial platform to study mosquito feeding behavior

Via: Rice University

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